Becoming A
Returning Student

If you are a returning student—someone who left high school some time ago—you have certain advantages and challenges. Chances are you've been working and have a better idea of what an education can mean for getting ahead and earning more money for your family. You may know the frustration of having only a dead-end job. You likely have a clearer picture of your interests and the type of job you want.

  • Find a college that fits your life. Tribal colleges and many community colleges understand the needs of returning students. Because many of their students work while attending classes, they often offer evening or weekend classes. Some colleges, including four-year schools, offer family housing or on-site day care. Think about your family needs and look for schools that will help you balance school and family.

Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand. Native American Saying

  • Work with an academic advisor. This person can help you navigate the college admissions and financial aid process. An advisor can even help you achieve a GED (if you don't have one) and offer insights about careers. When in college, try to meet with your advisor every month or two to make certain you're on track to reach your goals.
  • Be prepared to take the Accuplacer placement test. If it has been more than five years since you took the SAT or ACT, your college will need to assess your skills in math, reading, and writing. Depending on the results, your advisor may want you to take some refresher (remedial) classes. Students who don't have a high school diploma or GED and who want to apply for federal financial aid must take and pass the Ability to Benefit version of the Accuplacer test.
  • Get the most from remedial classes. Although these classes don't offer college credits, they will help you prepare for college courses. Also, remedial classes teach other skills like time management and study skills. These skills are crucial to busy adults with families, households, and jobs to manage on top of their education.

Becoming A Returning Student

  • Look into the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). CLEP can give you college credit for what you already know if you earn qualifying scores on any of 33 examinations. The cost of a CLEP exam in 2010 is $77, but this could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tuition.
  • Don't take on too much. If you've been away from exams and homework for a while, you'll need time to adjust. You may want to start with a trial run of classes (one or two) until you find your balance and develop time management skills.
  • Identify resources. Every student experiences some "crunch" times, often around mid-term or final exams. Knowing people who can help you with babysitting or running errands can lower your stress level and keep you on track academically.
  • Use social networking. If you use social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter, make contact with other returning students or even alumni. These students may be able to provide moral support and tips on balancing family, work, and school.
  • Explore employer tuition assistance. Some employers offer assistance or time off from work while you are in school. In addition, the federal government provides credits for students going into certain jobs, such as for teachers who take jobs in disadvantaged areas. Your academic advisor can provide the details.

To help clarify your thoughts and concerns, consider completing the Returning Student Worksheet. After completing the worksheet you'll be better prepared to talk with an academic advisor to start setting a path to your college degree.

If you are you considering an associate's degree at this point, but might want to get a bachelor's degree later on, click here to learn more.

Returning Student Worksheet

Do I have my high school diploma or GED? If not, what steps will I take to get my GED?

I am interested in a career in:

This career will require (type of degree: associate's, bachelor's, or graduate):

What accredited colleges in my area offer this program?

Did I take the SAT or ACT within the last five years? (What were my scores?)

If I must take the Accuplacer Placement test, how will I prepare and who can give me advice on preparing for this test?

What services do I need from a college (on-site daycare, family housing, evening and/or weekend classes, online classes)?

How many classes can I realistically fit into my schedule?

Does my employer offer tuition assistance or time off to attend classes?

Who can I rely on to help me with family or other commitments during busy times?